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  • INTERVIEW | Grace Lyell | Nederlands Dans Theater 2

INTERVIEW | Grace Lyell | Nederlands Dans Theater 2

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“NDT is a very special place, I always see it like the beating heart of the world.”

As one of the world’s leading contemporary dance companies, Nederlands Dans Theater have an avant garde aesthetic that puts their companies on the map in terms of innovative choreography and exceptional dancers.

With two companies in Nederlands Dans Theater, NDT2, are the youngest company that focus on talent development for dancers between the age of 17 and 23. They are currently embarking on a UK tour that will be arriving at the Birmingham Hippodrome on the 3rd and 4th of May as part of the city’s International Dance Festival.

Watching the rehearsals, I was entranced by the potency of the choreography. Each movement is sharp, tight and intense, but every so often the interjection of stillness is compelling. NDT2’s production is nothing like I’ve ever seen before. They perform a contrast of slick, emotionally engaging dances and unconventional distorted pieces that are quirky and witty.

I sat down with Grace Lyell, a passionate young dancer that has been dancing with NDT2 for nearly two years. Grace was born in London, but grew up in the South of France, despite English not being her first language she eloquently articulates her love for the company.

“Working for them is a huge privilege,” she told me. “I am super aware everyday of how lucky I am to be working for such incredibly rich souls, it doesn’t feel like work.” After joining the company at just seventeen, Grace has grown up with NDT2.

“When I joined NDT2, I began working with people who had already been in one or two companies, it was like I just dived into the ocean by myself, but that is what also made it so extremely special and enriching.”

NDT2 hold an open audition every year and dancers travel from every corner of the world for a chance to join the company. “I went to the open audition, without much of an idea of what I was getting myself into,” Grace explained. After attending the audition, she got called back to go and spend some time with the company, she watched rehearsals, took classes and repertoire, and then worked individually with the choreographers.

After returning to school, just two weeks later she received the call asking if she’d like a contract, and she was elated. She then packed her bags and took off to Holland to join the company. Moving away to a different country and leaving your friends and family behind is a huge dedication to dance, she said “I think that on the artistic level and dance level it was not that big of a transition.”

“But the fact that I was 17, I got myself a little house, I have to check my mailbox, pay my taxes and get loo rolls when there aren’t any left. All these things were weird. But at the same time it was so fulfilling, I’ve built my little life and it is really nice.”

NDT2 Cacti

Credit: Johan Persson

NDT2 train at an incredibly high standard, dancers have to have strength, discipline, technique and personality. Something that was evident when I watched the dancers who were completely engaged in the emotive narrative of the piece during their rehearsals.

Grace fell in love with dance at the age of eleven, after taking a few classes here and there as she grew up, it was at eleven that she began to dedicate her time and energy into enhancing herself as a dancer.

“I felt this constant urge to be sharing my emotions all the time, and then I discovered that I could transform this urge and share it through art.”

On tour, the company switch up the pieces they perform at each venue, however there are a few that are consistently in the show. I was intrigued to know Grace’s favourite pieces to perform: “I must say Cacti is a good one” a piece choreographed by Alexander Ekman, a former dancer of NDT2. “First of all it is really nice because the whole company are involved so you get this vibrating group happiness throughout the whole piece, which is super fun,” Grace added.

“I also really love watching my colleagues that dance a duet called Schubert, I find it extremely beautiful and poetic.”

Grace described a typical day in the life at NDT2 at their rehearsal space Lucent Danstheater in The Hague, “We start every morning at 9:30am warming up with a ballet class, which allows us to connect to ourselves and connect to the whole group because then throughout the day we are probably spread into different rehearsals.” With an hour lunch break at 1pm, where they all chat and listen to music, they then rehearse until 5:30pm everyday.

“It is a busy life but a rich, satisfying life.”

Grace loves being on tour, especially in England as it allows her to come home and see her family. Although they are constantly rehearsing throughout the day, when they do have a morning, or even a day off, they take full advantage of it. Grace beamed as she told me about all the fun adventures the dancers get up to: “Last Sunday we rented a car and went up to Stonehenge and then we went to the coast. We were hiking all day and had a picnic at the beach.”


Credit: Johan Persson

It is evident that life as an NDT dancer is exciting, and the dancers clearly have an abundance of never-ending energy. I asked Grace about the hardest part of being a dancer, she pondered on the question for a while. “Probably to never forget to always be better. Most artists, I think, are extreme perfectionists and somehow perfection is something that I think many people will never reach. So we are in this constant push, which comes from a good place, a place of willingness to discover yourself through your art which is still quite an intense process.”

“You can’t be sitting on your arse waiting for it to come, the only person that will make anything happen is you.”

Dancing for NDT2 is an invigorating whirlwind of a life, the young dancers are learning, growing up and discovering who they are and how their body responds to movement.

When I asked Grace how she would move on from NDT2, she informed me she doesn’t consider herself a dancer for life. She said: “I love dance, I love using my body, I love sharing these kind of fancy moves but also I love acting, singing, drawing, photography, there is an infinite list of things I love to do.”

“I consider myself, before anything else, an expressive soul.”

Grace is a bubbly and vibrant nineteen-year-old that shows a genuine appreciation for everything in her life, she has a very wise outlook on her career journey so far, and her aspirations.

“I manage to find my own voice in many different ways of expressing myself and I think that I shouldn’t limit myself, I think I should experience whatever is on my way.”

It is clear that Grace is thoroughly grateful for everything NDT2 have provided for her, she has not only grown as a dancer, but as a person. Working in such a prestigious company has allowed her explore her body and become the impeccable and connected dancer she is today.

NDT2 are currently touring the UK and details can be found here.

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